Hello Darkness My Old Friend

 

Imagine if Scorn, Autechre and Monolake got together in a collaborative threesome. Wouldn’t that be terrific? Well, the new ASC album is the next best thing.

There was little to suggest that English-born, US resident James Clements would ever deliver something as gripping as Astral Projection, his early work clinging to fairly conventional drum’n’bass templates. While he’s been producing albums since 1999, even 10 years ago I wouldn’t have walked across my un-mown nature strip to hear one of his records.

Clements is apparently known for spearheading the ‘autonomic’ genre, whatever the fuck that is, but really, who cares? Astral Projections isn’t an album that breaks out any apparently new genres, but provides a stunning consolidation of the three above-named titans of electronica.

From the get-go it’s like dub-industrial unit Scorn coming back to life in 2018 with hi-def sound quality, and the album just keeps on layering on the dread. Scorn’s Mick Harris loved his drone-like doom soundscapes, and ASC uses similar techniques through much of the album, but without the slow, sludgy Scorn rhythms. Instead, everything stands out in glossy digital detail. On some albums that can lead to a kind of motion slickness, but Clements has all the elements just right.

Those elements include the sparking, sharp rhythms of Monolake and, quite unexpectedly, the queasy, dirty textures used by Autechre on early albums like the classic Amber.

The sub-bass is genuinely deep and earth-shaking (or window-quaking!) but unlike Scorn it’s not all low-end theory, and when the percussion kicks in so brilliantly sharp and clear and clean it’s a shock just how hi-res it sounds.

Obviously, Astral Projections is an album with a space theme and its track titles verge on cliché: ‘Motion Resonance’, ‘Gravity Distortion’, ‘Lunar Decay’ and ‘Vortex Ring’, for instance. It’s terminology that any Star Trek fan will recognise, and it’s something unknown and freaky for the music to hang on.

The music on Astral Projections is not the kind of testosterone-driven darkness of late ‘90s drum’n’bass, but instead an interiorised combination of fear and awe that contains elements from various electronic styles and beat structures, including techno and electro. Some may find it a bit too dark, and even though its stylistic origins are in dance music, it certainly didn’t make me want to put on my pogo shoes. Personally, I find doom-laden music of this type somehow comforting, and of course, I love the sound design. It’s definitely ‘my hi-fi likes this kind of music’ territory.

Unfortunately, it can’t quite maintain itself through 12 long tracks – each averaging around 6 minutes – and is best listened to in segments. But that goes with the territory, where occasionally an album is massaged into one organic piece, but more often than not it contains a miscellany of material, including 12-inch singles.

I like it. Can you tell?

 

 

 

 

 

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